Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Albany Citizen's Police Academy - Class Two -The Chief, Recruitment, Field Training

The second week of the Albany Citizens Police Academy started with Community Ed. Specialist Carmen Westfall speaking briefly and getting our t-shirt sizes. We get t-shirts! I don't know about you, but I can always use another t-shirt!

Then Chief Ed Boyd spoke to us. Something about Chief Boyd made me smile. He is definitely comfortable in front of a crowd and exudes confidence. I must admit I was distracted for a second by his purple dress shirt, but he wore it well, to paraphrase Rod Stewart. He encouraged us to interrupt him to ask questions. He talked easily about the department, his career, and what he sees as the challenges faced by the department. He provided statistics about Albany's policing staff as compared to the national average. As I understand it Albany has a force of approximately 1.1 officer per 1000 people, which isn't too bad. Ideally, the force would have approximately 1.3 officers per 1000 people.

Chief Boyd, though, feels the numbers aren't the most important thing. He believes the question to be answered is whether or not the police department is able to do everything that needs to be done to keep the citizens of Albany safe. He believes they are staffed to handle the load for everything except unusual occurrences. Hearkening back to last week, he reiterated the importance of interagency cooperation in the region.

Someone in the class asked if it would be cheaper to hire new officers than to pay overtime. He explained that it wouldn't when all the benefits, training and other costs were factored in.

It takes a full year after someone is hired for them to become a sworn police officer.

One interesting thing that surprised me is that the chief can go to jail if the department goes overbudget because it is illegal to go over budget; however, there are contingency funds in the city's coffers he can request in the case of a catastrophe.

He also talked about crime rates. It was nice to learn that Albany and the surrounding area is below the National, State, and Region crime rates for violent crimes even if property crimes in the same area are higher than the State and Region. He also told us that national crime rates are way down across the country which is surprising given the current economic climate. I have to admit that I wondered if fewer people are bothering to report "small" crimes, since crime rates are based on reported crimes... But that's just my cynical mind coming out to play.

One interesting fact he shared when discussing crime rates concerned meth use. The first shot of meth causes one's dopamine levels to shoot over 1000. Compare this to sex which has dopamine levels of around 250 (I think that's right)! Wow! The problem is that every time after that first time, the dopamine level increases less pushing the meth user to use more and more to go after that first level. Made me glad I've never been interested in trying drugs. He also informed us that meth use in the area is down but herion and cocaine use is up. That surprised me a little.

Next up, Lieutenant Chris Carter talked about Recruitment, Training, Physical Fitness, and Certification. He explained the application process, the testing process, the oral board Interview, and the background investigation. It takes a new employee eighteen months to complete the training period.

Job openings are posted online along with the minimum requirements. Albany Police Department does not require a college degree. Lieutenant Carter explained that in police work street smarts are as important as education.  He showed a few of the videos shown during the ergometrics portion of the testing process. The videos were simple and are used to test the applicant's reaction to look for weak areas and strong points. The videos appear to have been shot sometime in the 1980s, possibly early 1990s, but the scenarios are ones that are universal and timeless, a call about a couple fighting that could potentially escalate to domestic violence and a drinking in public scenario were two of the ones we watched. Afterwards, a set of options is listed for the applicant to choose a response. Interestingly, officers applying from other departments find the test more difficult than new recruits because they tend to overthink the answers. Answers must be given within ten seconds. There's also a written and reading part of the ergometrics process because reading comprehension and writing skills are important for filling out reports and communicating effectively.

The ORPAT, Oregon Physical Abilities Test, looked interesting but difficult. It's an obstacle course that must be completed in 5 minutes and 30 seconds for the applicant to pass to the next stage of the hiring process. Lieutenant Carter provided a handout with the obstacle course laid out and explained how it would be run. All I could think was I'd kind of like to experience that, but I don't want to do it in front of people and I sure don't want to do the course 6 times in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. Okay, I don't want to do the course once in that time frame, but it would be interesting to get a feel for what it is.

The background investigation starts when a conditional job offer is made. It includes a personal history statement, an integrity interview that the applicant fills out while sitting across from someone reading his/her personal history statement. The questionnaires are designed to know the applicant person as much as humanly possible. I'm guessing from the way he described it that it could even put the person in touch with things he/she doesn't even realize about himself/herself. The idea is to make sure the candidate can do the job. Family and friends are interviewed during the background investigation.  All applicants are fingerprinted, so their prints can be run. The prints are then kept on file forever.

Lieutenant Hammersley took over to discuss the Field Training & Evaluation Program that new recruits go through upon joining the department. As he worked through the slide show, I began to imagine what it must feel like to show up at the scene of a domestic violence incident, a murder scene, or even an accident and be expected to know what to do. Granted by the time these officers get to the Field Training & Evaluation Program, they have already been through the police academy, but it still has to be completely unnerving. In this job if you make a mistake, someone could die. That's quite a responsibility.

During the orientation, the new officer is given a training manual and their equipment. They are also given the policy, procedures, and general orers and all those are explained. They observe other agencies and departments and they work theorugh the first section of the Training Manual. Over the next several weeks, they rotate between field training officers to be sure they observe a variety of management styles and learn myriad skills the different FTOs have to offer. They go on calls and continue to complete their Field Training Manual. In Phase 4, they are assigned back to their original FTO, so the FTO can ensure they've met all the requirements to ready them for solo status - to take calls on their own. In Phase 5, the new officer is assigned solo status, but is overseen by the shift Lieutenant for two months.

During the Field Training & Evaluation, the FTO fills out a Daily Observation Report on the new officer's performance each and every day. These are used to determine strengths and weaknesses, so that areas that need strengthened can be addressed.  Scores on each area of the 23 standardized areas are graded on a scale of 1-7. The scores should increase as the training goes on and a minimum of 4 must be maintained during the final few weeks of training.

While in an ideal world, new officers would go on calls that matched their current skill level and increased as their skills grew, in reality they go on the calls that come in because, well, frankly, crimes can't be scheduled to match training. This often mean a new officer is called to a domestic violence call  earlier in training than the FTO would like. Learning happens as the calls present themselves meaning the new officer needs to be ready from the first day to go on any type of call where he/she is needed.

This portion of the class ended with a demonstration of a traffic stop in which two volunteers from the class participated. One volunteer acted as a new recruit and pulled over Lieutenant Hammersly for a traffic violation. Another class member acted as the FTO providing an evaluation. The new recruit volunteer had a little fun with it providing a little jovialty to the evening, and the class noted some of the mistakes made. All in all, it was an entertaining way to end the class.

As Lieutenant Hammersley described report writing, it dawned on me that a major component of fiction writing is also a must in police reports - Show Don't Tell. The reports need to show what happened to make the cases work when it goes to the DA or to court. I hadn't thought about it in those terms before, but it makes perfect sense. Writers need to show instead of tell in order to immerse their readers in the story and keep the events alive.

We covered a lot in this class. I wonder if all the classes are going to cover so much information. It's all interesting and there are definitely tidbits I've picked up that could be beneficial as I write crime fiction! The class gives a bit of an insight into the real life of the cops and the struggles police departments have to be all they need to be to the community.

One thing is certain, these classes are designed to bridge any gaps between the community and the police. It's not really designed for learning to write better fiction... Of course, I knew that going in... That said, it is a worthwhile venture.

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